Liner Notes


VRCD 309

Benny Thomasson is one of the originators of what has become known as "Texas" fiddling, a style developed from older traditional fiddle styles in the 1920's and 1930's, that has spread from Texas and greatly influenced traditional fiddling in the West in recent years. Most major fiddle contests today are won by fiddlers playing in the style that Benny helped to create.

Benny's great grandfather came from Ireland. His grandfather, who was a fiddler, left Tennessee and settled in North Central Texas. His father was a well known fiddler before Benny was born, and Benny was raised on fiddle music. He remembered at an early age listening to his father "working tunes out" and trying to improve on them.

Benny entered his first fiddle contest when he was fourteen. When he was nineteen he entered a fiddle contest in Dallas, Texas, competing against about two hundred other fiddlers. He expected to come out near the top, but was disappointed to find himself hardly noticed. He then decided to "go to work on the old tunes", not changing the tunes, but making different variations of the same parts on different positions on the fiddle and "rounding them out and smoothing them up", until finally he got a little recognition.

Jerry Thomasson, one of Benny's sons, plays tenor guitar, providing a backup and complement to Benny's fiddling that has to be heard to be believed. According to Benny, Jerry showed little interest in music until he was about fifteen years old, when one day Jimmy Steely (son of Red Steeley, a member of the Red-Headed Fiddlers) came around with a Gibson tenor guitar that used to belong to Sleepy Johnson who played with Bob Wills. Jerry decided he wanted to play tenor guitar and asked his father for one. Benny painted Steeley's car in trade for the tenor guitar, and Jerry started learning to play it, first from Benny and then from books. He learned how to work around the inversions of a chord to provide variety in backing up a fiddler in a tune which may involve few chord changes.

This recording was made outside Benny's trailer, under the trees in the campground in Weiser, Idaho, during the National Oldtime Fiddle Contest. This was a sort of a reunion for the Thomasson family, since Benny had moved to Kalama, Washington the previous year to be with his son Dale. As soon as Jerry and his family rolled into Weiser from Texas, he and Benny got into a jam session, with Dale helping out on six-string guitar. That is the session on this recording.

Recorded by Brooks A. Otis, June 1972

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